Mountain bikes are more capable than ever, and Novatec saw a hole in affordably priced wheels that could keep up. The new Factor Diablo XL is their answer to the modern long travel, do it all mountain bike. Light enough to climb, strong enough for enduro racing and aggressive park riding, and wide enough for modern tires. During development, the 29er downhill movement came around, so they added that to the docket and brought out the wheel for both sizes. They’ve even been testing them in both wheel sizes with World Cup riders on DH courses.
The new 6069 alloy rim is made in house and is welded to make a stronger, more airtight design than pinned versions they’ve used before. Dimensions are 30mm internal width, 35mm external width, a 5mm tall sidewall and 21mm total height.
Novatec’s U.S. team says these wheels are ready for downhill racing, but the push is to get them on 140-180mm travel bikes. They’re designed around a 2.4″ to 2.85″ tire and will come pre-taped with tubeless valve stems in the box.
The rims are identical between wheel sizes and are very laterally stiff. One of their teams, Norco, was using the Schwalbe ProCore system, so Novatec worked with them to get the rim measurements dialed to work with that system, and naturally just as well with standard tubeless tires, too.
The hubs are the same ones proven on course by their World Cup athletes. It’s these, and what’s inside, that separate the Factor Diablo XL wheelset from the lower priced Novatec Diablo XL wheels.
Factor is Novatec’s high end brand, and these get a new 60-tooth ratchet ring…
…with six pawls designed specifically for it. Shown on the left, you can see the difference in size and spacing for the 60-tooth pawls versus the Novatec hub’s 42-tooth pawls.
The teeth are offset such that three of the pawls are engaged at any time, resulting in a very tight 3° engagement. The only other real difference is the Factor hub shells get additional polishing for a more brilliant finish.
Each wheelset is handbuilt to order.
The Novatec Diablo XL wheels use the same rims, but get their slightly down-spec’d hub with a 42-tooth ratchet ring for 4.6° engagement. The upside? They come in black and a rainbow of anodized colors.
Since they’re so similar, weights are the same for both models. Claimed weights are: 2,020g (27.5″) and 2,135g (29er). The Factor model will retail for $850, and Novatec wheels for $750. Shops and teams can get custom laser engraving on the hubs for a small upcharge. Available around the end of October.
We rode these through Kingdom Trails and the Burke Bike Park in Vermont, set up with various Onza tires, and ran them through everything from climby XC stuff to rowdy, loamy “trails” that had been rough cut into the mountain side. There was a little shuttling, but we earned plenty of those turns and came away exhausted from two solid days of riding.
Immediately apparent was the wheels’ stiffness, especially laterally. Personally, I’m used to riding XC wheels, which admittedly sacrifice some overall stiffness for weight savings. And in my opinion, it’s also done to improve ride feel. But when you’re bombing down hill or traversing rocky, technical terrain at top speed, precision starts to matter more than light weight. And these wheels are precise. Combined with Onza’s grippy rubber (especially on day two when we were running the new Aaron Gwin Signature Series Aquila tires), the wheels went directly where pointed. This inspired confidence and let me push the corners harder and faster than I ever would on my XC rigs.
That was impressive enough, but I was also wowed by the fact that they didn’t feel sluggish with the extra rotational weight. In this case, they certainly felt more nimble on day one with the lighter Onza Ibex tires mounted (The Aquilas are a good bit heavier, but they are also World Cup DH tires). We climbed quite a bit and they never seemed heavy or slow to accelerate.
One rider in our group hit a rock or log hard enough to substantially ding the rim’s edge, but it still held the tire through the ride. In fact, we didn’t even notice the damage until after our ride was complete, so he got quite a few more miles of aggressive descending out of it. All in all, these wheels took a good bit of abuse not just from us, but also Neko Mullally and Graham Aggasiz, and we had zero issues. If you’re looking for a strong set of wheels that won’t break the bank, put these on your short list.
Our trip was put together by Novatec’s US importer, Bike Fettish, and the rides were organized by Vermont Mountain Bike Tours (check them out, Alex and Ella are awesome!).